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“Vote as if your life depends on it… because it does.” – Justin Dart.

This quote not only emphasizes our responsibility to exercise our civil right to vote, it also communicates that securing our rights and freedoms is a continued effort. Preserving the dignity of all people and defining what our society will be for generations to come is an ongoing effort we should all sign up for. November 6th being our next opportunity to exercise this civil right, let’s educate ourselves on the issues, use our power, and vote.

People with disabilities constitute the largest minority group in America. In the last election more than one-fourth (25%) of the total electorate either had a disability or lived in a household with someone who had a disability, representing 62.7 million eligible voters. Though voter apathy is common across all populations (about 60 percent of eligible voters participating in presidential elections and 40 percent participate in midterm (non-presidential) elections), people with disabilities generally turn out 6-10 percent lower than people without disabilities. That means 2.2 million voters with disabilities did not vote in 2016.

Justin Dart understood that an engaged populous can drive needed social change. Dart, who became a wheelchair user in the 1940’s after contracting polio at age eighteen, met a world of barriers. People with disabilities were kept from society, either confined to institutions or by the numerous barriers to community living. Communities were filled with inaccessible buildings and modes of transportation, and unjust laws and regulations, all of which perpetuated by uncivil prejudices. Prior to 1965, people with disabilities did not even have equal access to vote. The Independent Living Movement brought forth leaders, like Dart, and an engaged disability community to demand equal rights and treatment for people with disabilities. Through engaged activism and community action, social justice laws were signed into law, such as, The Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision made access to community living a protected civil right.

Nationally, recent efforts have attempted to undermine access to community living. By lessening enforcement on accessibility compliance and restricting access to needed services, people with disabilities face having less protection to live and participate in the community. The ADA Education and Reform Act, if passed by the U.S. Senate, allows businesses to delay removing an access barrier for 120 days, or an undefined length of time, if the business is showing “progress” towards removing the barrier. Various proposed changes to Medicaid through block grants and per capita caps limit beneficiaries and/or access to essential services while attaching work requirements restricts eligibility. All three threaten to take away independence and freedom from individuals wanting to maintain their life in the least restrictive and most cost effective environment, which is at home and in the community with family and friends. If you are looking to stay involved and engaged with all things related to the disability vote across the country, The REV-UP Campaign is a great resource. REV-UP stands for: Register, Educate, Vote, and Use your Power.

November 6th marks an opportunity for us to defend our civil rights and stake a claim in our future. We are in position to lead towards a barrier-free life that is inclusive and respectful to all. It is the opportunity we cannot afford to miss.

Darren Larson | Community Relations Coordinator
Consumer Direct Care Network | Development